- Chris Hansen, ESPNHS HoopGurlz
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Kianna Holland is accustomed to being sized up and written off.
Holland, the No. 22 prospect in the ESPN HoopGurlz Super 60 for the class of 2013, has been on an emotional and physical roller coaster that dates back nearly two years. She tore the anterior-cruciate ligament in her left knee in the spring of 2010. In somewhat of a panic following the injury, she made an early commitment in March 2011 to Ohio State, only to realize she wasn't ready and would rescind the pledge in August of the same year.
The junior guard hails from Seneca, S.C., a small city that sits amid the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Seneca's website notes that when the burgh was founded that it was named "The City of Opportunity." But when it came to her big-time collegiate hoop dreams, Holland felt the city (population: 7,652) was all but the opposite.
"I think I'm always going to be the same kid no matter what the expectations or pressure are," Holland said. "I feel like I've already overcome a major hurdle; I was too skinny, came from a small town, had the knee injury..."
Perhaps the first sign of how misunderstood Holland would be started showing up early in her playing career, around the seventh grade. The self-described "skinny girl with makeup" would often find the other team's worst player rushing to pick her as the player they wanted to guard.
"I put on the same makeup I wear to school," Holland says of her game-day preparation. "It's the same thing I wear to training or anywhere. I take being a girl seriously."
Holland, a converted gymnast, was often upset by the opposing team's gesture.
"Really, this girl? What an insult," Holland recalls thinking.
Holland was quick to correct the misjudgments on the floor, not with words, but with buckets.
First trip down the floor, a filthy crossover move for a layup; the next, a steal followed up by a hesitation move that left the defender's face nearly the same color as Holland's pink eye shadow. Four quick points and almost on queue, a timeout was called.
"After that they switch it up and get the good girl on [me]," Holland added with a laugh.
Don't mistake this for overconfidence, as Holland is about as humble of a hoops star as you will find. But now, with the Duke commitment officially out of the way, she has some very specific goals that should allow her to put the chip from her shoulder, which assumedly matches her uniform and shoes, securely in her gym bag. Playing at Cameron Indoor Stadium and donning the blue-and-white Blue Devils uniform should erase the small town "isms" from her young hoops career in the not too distant future.
"You know what conference you're going into. You know, top to bottom, what the build of the players looks like and the style of play," Holland said. "I know where I'm going, so I can prepare for that."
One of her goals prior to heading to Durham, N.C., is to add about 10 pounds of muscle.
"I have a really good trainer who is very aware of what a woman should look like," Holland said. "He's not going to blow up my arms bigger than a wide receiver on the football team. I think I'm pretty slight in build to begin with so it shouldn't be very noticeable."
Holland is an athletic, 5-foot-9 combo guard with a real jump shot (meaning she elevates off the floor to shoot). But she wants to become more explosive and improve her already impressive jumping ability. She has designs on being that coveted rebounder from the guard position for Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie.
And in her more immediate sights is breaking Seneca High's all-time scoring record, for both boys and girls basketball, which she says she's approximately 400 points from reaching. She scored more than 600 points as a junior.
With this commitment, Holland feels free to enjoy a summer fun and competing hard. She wants to put her name up on the banners she sees hanging from the Peach State Hoops events her Georgia Hoopstars team frequents during the club season. And if you want to doubt the kid who came within a well-lined eyelash of making the USA Basketball U16 national team less than a year ago, go ahead, but you've been warned.
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Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. He is a member of the McDonald's All-American team selection committee. Hansen can be reached at email@example.com.